CNBC.com's Sports Toy Of The Year: Sky Ball+Bat
CNBC Sports Business Reporter
It's Memorial Day weekend and that means it's time to break out the grill, the football and the Wiffle ball and bat.
Actually, scratch that last one off the list.
After 57 years of going virtually unchallenged, the Wiffle Ballis going to face some serious competition from what I think is one of the best sports play products to ever be invented.
Leave it to the son of the inventor of the Hula-Hoop to give the dominant ball and bat toy a run for its money.
The Sky Ball+Bat is the brainchild of Maui Toys, headed up by Brian Kessler. It's a plastic bat combined with the company's Sky Ball, which is made with helium, and when hit off the bat can fly as far as 300 feet.
Kessler, who has made it his mission to make classic toys better over the years, likes to think of his latest toy as an esteem booster over the well-known competitor.
"It could be fun for an adult, but this product is really for six to 12-year-olds," Kessler said. "With one swing of the bat, a kid can feel what it's like to be a pro."
Maui debuted various versions of the Sky Ball three years ago. On its own, it promises to bounce up to 75 feet off the ground. Sales are just as sky high. Kessler says that the Sky Ball brand has helped his company become one of the largest outdoor sports product companies in the world.
"We can't make enough of these things," Kessler said.
Combining the ball with the bat has also been a tremendous success. Kessler first sold it to Dick's Sporting Goods late last year and says he expects the company will sell 100,000 units in its 424 stores.
That's even despite a price point of $14.95, which might be considered risky since a Wiffle Ball with bat set has been sold forever at $4.99.
"The ball itself costs $10 and I couldn't justify giving people a crappy bat just to make it cheaper," Kessler said.
If there's any flaw to Kessler's product it's that replacement baseball-sized Sky Balls aren't sold separately (Wiffle balls come in a pack of nine for $10), so anyone who loses the Sky Ball has to buy the next biggest version, which is more like the size of a softball.
Kessler's father, Milton, didn't make a fortune off his Hula-Hoop patent because he abandoned production after 14 months in the late 50s to concentrate on his core business, manufacturing window and door parts in his factory in Youngstown, Ohio.
"It wasn't dumb at the time," Kessler said. "All he was doing was making Hula-Hoops and his regular customers needed their parts. It was during a huge construction boom."
Kessler never let it go and his Maui Toys decades later came up with a Hula-Hoop with water in it that makes it easier to twist and twist without it dropping to the ground. Kessler says his Wave Hoop makes up 65 percent of today's market.
The Sky Ball+Bat still has plenty of room to grow. After Dick's got the first crack, Toys R Us became its second vendor.
And Kessler isn't resting. Next year, he'll have the fat bat product for the four-year-old, who, thanks to the latest in ball technology, will be able to hit a Sky Ball 40 feet, Kessler says, with little more than a tap.
"It's time to bring the excitement back to sports," Kessler said.
And this one definitely brings it.
Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com